Is good design just a question of perspective?
Being a food critic must surely be the best job in the world. You eat out constantly, feasting on the wares of the some of the nicest eateries in the country, washed down with the most pleasant wines. Restauranteurs welcome you with open arms, ready to present you with the best cuisine – always the most delicious food at any given price point – along with five star service. Your opinions are celebrated in print, online, on radio and on TV, with eager diners hanging on to your every word. And oh, the power of those words, which can make or break a business. Even when you’re not on the clock and just out for a meal with friends or looking to enjoy the pleasure of your own company on a quiet night out, astute business owners will always go the extra mile with the service, and perhaps free drinks on the house – not bribery, mind; just a thank-you for your patronage.
On the other hand, being a food critic must surely be the worst job in the world. You go out with the highest of hopes, only to find that tonight’s chef is trying too hard, is being too experimental, or simply can’t cook. And remember, it’s never the despair that gets you, it’s the hope. Everyone hates you, knowing that you’re so far up your own backside you probably no longer appreciate the food for the food; you’d much rather say something controversial to impress your audience and boost your own sense of self importance, oblivious to the impact it might have on the restaurant. You can’t eat out anywhere any more without other diners staring, pointing and greeting. Even when you do have a good meal, the experience is inevitably marred by the knowledge that, at some point, you have to go home to your own cooking. And of course you have to cover up every mirror in your house so that you don’t have to deal with the reality of your ever expanding waistline.
It is, of course, all a question of perspective. There is no right or wrong and everything is subjective. And that’s particularly true in the world of design where a product hit or miss is entirely dependent on a fickle public and there’s nothing we can do about it.
What? Surely good design is about eliminating subjectivity as far as possible. Stir up an emotional response, yes, but based on real market requirements. There’s almost a tick list: Is there a defined market need? Am I addressing that market need? Am I giving the market something my competitors are not? Can I create a new market? Will I be first? What’s the price point? What’s the timescale? Will the market be sustainable? And there are many other items to tick off the list, because successful product design is never about perspective, but always about understanding the needs of your customers – sometimes before they even recognise they have those needs. Most importantly, always critique your own work. Because once your product is out there on the market, there are no second chances. Everyone’s a critic.
Mark Simms Editor